March 16, 2020

Optimizing Data Visualization for Comprehension, According to Analytics Consulting Manager Malcolm McIlraith of Publicis Media

At a recent talk by Chicago-based data analytics training firm Promotable, data analyst Malcolm McIlraith gave a tactical talk about presenting your data visually. Once you/your team have produced findings, how do you convey them as clearly as possible? Malcolm suggests:
  • Mind the colors so they more than sufficiently contrast. If you reacted with “that’s painfully obvious,” exactly! When the color contrast is not apparent, it can muddle the findings derived from the data. Retina fatigue ensues.
  • A bar chart may be boring for its rote convention. But they prove effective—compared to pie charts because these residual graphics do not easily enable easy comparison of data sets. From Malcolm, “I’m on a lifelong crusade against pie charts.”
  • Be vigilant of how technical your audience is. Malcolm eloquently said, “Mathematical visuals are made for mathematical audiences.”
Out of Malcolm’s advice, his tip for designing dashboards, which he defined as “a set of interactive visuals focused around a specific topic,” was my favorite: “You are a nature guide, not a drill sergeant.” Depending on the kind of dashboard, the designer can act as either a tour guide, mountain guide, safari guide, wilderness guide or another mode. Whatever the “information landscape” (Thank you, Muriel Cooper, for this concept!), thinking and iterating through an information-layered interface in order to make it productively digestible and efficiently navigable remains the valuable process for everyone working with data. In as much as it takes discipline to achieve both data-driven integrity and insights, the same discipline is demanded of their communication.

Thanks again to Promotable who proactively align their workshops with timely perspectives through their organizing of weekly talks—now exclusively online! Explore their channel on YouTube.

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